Earned media coverage -- a mention in a hard news story or editorial -- is the golden goose of marketing for business owners. According to data from BusinessWire, consumers still trust news coverage more than advertising. In general, people are more likely to zero in on products and services making a difference in the world and showing up in their feeds.
News coverage, however, has changed drastically over the last few decades, keeping up with the general migration of information to the Internet. Entrepreneurs who aren't aware of modern shifts in media coverage will find themselves left out of one of the most important tools in their marketing box: publicity.
News still matters. After a sharp decline over the past 10 years, broadcast and print media have slightly rebounded. True, cable networks are more fragmented than ever, but local news stations are gaining viewers. Small business owners with a product or service that matters to their community should target the fact that local news has the highest trust index, is directly targeted at their audience and is more accessible to small companies than the major news outlets.
While a slot on ABC News or The New York Times is obviously desirable, a mention on your local news station can be just as valuable to a small business in their local community.
The relevance of local media for a small business cannot be overstated. Brick-and-mortar stores rely heavily on word of mouth, online recommendations and foot traffic. Internet retailers are even more dependent on reviews. While links and web search results are important, a shout-out from the local morning show can accomplish in 30 seconds what it takes a paid online banner ad 10 months to do.
In much the same way, local and industry-specific print publications can have a stronger impact on your business than paid newspaper advertisements. In fact, these “vertical” publications are the bread and butter of some very successful companies. Tech companies like SpotterRF and bioscience giant Fluoresentric are good examples of businesses targeting peers and investors, and winning in a big way.
Meanwhile, the lines between TV and Internet delivery are blurring. The proliferation of smartphones, news apps and first-news alerts online means that most of us first see headlines digitally, then get the details from local or national news outlets. Networks have begun to embrace this and to promote an aggressive social media strategy that casts a wider net and reaches new and younger audiences. This means that targeting news outlets gives you more than just television exposure. A print review or interview helps you reach a wider online audience than social outreach on its own will do.
Earned media isn’t necessarily limited to traditional news outlets. Bloggers have proven over the last 10 years that they are here to stay. Almost half of Americans have read a news story on a blog in the past year, and around 20 percent say they obtain their news only from online sources. Bloggers who write about topics relevant to your business may be interested in talking about your company, or quoting experts on your staff. These kinds of mentions, while not directly related to your products or marketing, can have a huge impact on your business-name recognition.
A recent change to the way Facebook treats corporate accounts further accents the need for businesses to remember traditional media. Facebook is limiting what content will reach your target audience. Some researchers have estimated that with the new rules, your social posts may reach only 2 percent of your fans. But this doesn’t mean that online outreach is dead, far from it. Still, it would seem that the days of unlimited free publicity on social networks are coming to an end.
Businesses cannot live by social media alone. While online marketing efforts are necessary and even expected, business owners who ignore traditional news sources and the PR tactics that help them appear there will be left out in the cold. So beef up your online pressroom and engage in social platforms but don’t forget to reach out to the little guys. Your local new station may be what saves your business.